Car accidents are often scary and stressful. Some people fear being involved in an auto accident as soon as they start their car. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states that in 2021, more than 6 million vehicle accidents occurred in the US.

Whether you’re involved in a minor fender bender or a more serious accident, it can be difficult to think clearly. Here are some important steps you need to take to protect yourself and others.

Determine If Anyone Is Hurt

The first thing you should NEVER do is leave the scene of an accident. Whether you have minor scrapes and bruises and the other parties involved are not hurt, you should never leave the scene of the accident. Your first responsibility after an auto accident is safety. Make sure you and the other parties involved, if any, are okay. Don’t wait to get medical assistance. Get help immediately for the individuals who need it.

Remove Yourself and Your Vehicle Away From Danger

If you can, move your vehicle to the shoulder of the road so it doesn’t disrupt the flow of traffic. Put your hazard lights on and use flares and reflective emergency triangles if you have them to let other drivers know that there is an emergency. The reflective emergency triangles create a barrier between your vehicle and oncoming traffic so your vehicle isn’t further damaged, and other cars aren’t damaged.

The reflective triangles also alert drivers to slow down and change lanes to help them stay clear of the accident. Many states have a Move Over law that states that drivers are required to move to a different lane in the event a vehicle has stopped or been pulled over by authorities. If the crash is severe and someone is injured, leave the vehicles where they are.

Even if you feel fine and don’t think you’ve been injured, be careful when you exit your vehicle, especially if the accident occurred on a busy street or a highway.

Call the Authorities

It’s important to report the accident by calling the police. However, police officers in certain areas may not respond to a minor collision if there are no injuries. Why? In most states, there is a shortage of police officers, which means there are fewer officers available to respond to minor auto accidents. Also, more officers are retiring or resigning faster than replacements can be hired.

Because of the shortage of officers, many states are considering online reporting instead of having an officer report to the scene of the accident. However, if an officer does arrive, make sure you get their name, badge number, and contact information. You will also need a copy of the accident report, which you can get from the officer. If an officer doesn’t arrive, you can request a copy of the accident report from the law enforcement branch or through the auto insurance adjuster who is handling your claim.

It’s important to note that you can also file an incident report at your local police department. You’ll still want to get an official incident report in case the other driver(s) sue you for damages or injuries. This report is also great to have if it is later determined that your vehicle sustained more damage than was thought originally.

Collect Essential Information

If you have your cell phone, use it to take pictures of the scene of the accident and keep track of important information, such as the names, addresses, and phone numbers of all drivers involved in the accident. You’ll also want to write down or document the driver’s license number of everyone involved.

If the driver’s name doesn’t match the name of the individual who’s listed on the car’s registration or auto insurance documents, determine the person’s relationship to the owner of the vehicle.

Next, you’ll need the following vehicle information:

  • Year
  • Make
  • Model
  • License plate number
  • Color
  • Vehicle identification number (VIN)

Make sure to get the auto insurance policy number and the auto insurance carrier’s phone number in case other parties involved in the accident don’t report it. See if you can find any witnesses who are willing to give you their contact information about what they saw.

Never Share Your Information

Whether you’re at fault for the accident or not, you should never accept fault for the accident. You also shouldn’t share your information, such as your social security number or the coverage limits on your auto insurance policy. You only need to provide basic information, such as your name, address, phone number, and your auto insurance policy number.

Document the Scene of the Accident

Proper documentation is essential when an accident occurs. You need to get as much information as possible. The more information you collect or document, the smoother the claims process should be. You can use your phone to take a video, and pictures to document the scene of the accident.

Take pictures of your car and the other cars involved, as well as your surroundings. If you can, take pictures of your vehicle from all angles to show any damage your vehicle sustained. Make sure you write down the date and time of the accident. If there is any property damage, you’ll want to take pictures of this too.

When it comes to documenting the scene of an accident, one thing drivers forget to do is take pictures of the position(s) the car(s) is in. The position of the vehicle(s) is critical information for the adjuster when they re-create the scene after you report your claim. Write down or document as many things as you can think of while the incident is still fresh in your mind. You are more likely to remember the sequence of events.

Avoid Responsibility Discussions

It’s not uncommon for individuals who’ve just been in an accident to hold a discussion. However, avoid placing or accepting the blame for the accident. Making statements such as, “This was all my fault.” or “This was all your fault.” Placing blame is not going to fix the situation, so it’s best to avoid making such statements.

You also want to avoid becoming aggressive or hostile. Some experts may suggest staying in your car until the police arrive to prevent a situation from escalating. If you believe one or more drivers involved in the accident are impaired, stay and the car, don’t argue, and avoid communication. A police intervention will be necessary in this situation.

Don’t Hesitate to Call a Tow Truck

Depending on the severity of the accident and how much damage your car sustained, you may need to call a tow truck. A lot of drivers pay for roadside assistance memberships, such as AAA, or add roadside assistance to their auto insurance coverage. Roadside assistance is beneficial in a variety of ways, and you won’t be stuck on the side of the road.

Don’t fall for the tow truck scam! Tow trucks don’t appear out of nowhere when there’s an accident, and the chances of a tow truck being in the right place at the exact time of your accident are slim. Before you allow someone to put your car on the back of their tow truck, verify their credentials and write down their information for future reference. Tow truck scams occur more often than we would like to think. With these scams, your vehicle will be taken to a location and held until you pay an astronomical price to get it back.

Contact Your Auto Insurance Carrier

You may be tempted to negotiate or accept a cash deal to avoid the hassles and possible frustration of making an insurance claim. Did you know that neglecting or failing to notify your auto insurance carrier after an accident can leave you liable for all damages that stem from the accident?

For example, if your vehicle is declared a total loss (salvage), you could be held liable for the vehicle and have to pay out of pocket to repair or replace the vehicle. It’s better to file an insurance claim and handle matters that pertain to the accident through your auto insurance carrier so you have a level of protection in the event your vehicle needs to be replaced or repaired.

Also, if the other driver’s auto insurance policy isn’t sufficient to cover your vehicle’s damages, your auto insurance agent can check your policy for coverage options that can address this issue. If your auto insurance provider deems that the accident was not your fault, you may be granted a liability waiver, and you won’t have to pay your deductible.

Use Available Technology

May auto insurance companies have mobile apps that allow you to use your mobile phone to start the claims process. You may also be able to start the claims process online. If your auto insurance provider uses this technology, there should be an option on the app to start a claim.

You’ll have to take photos of the vehicle’s damage and provide other information about the accident. You may also be able to use your auto insurance app to schedule a tow and arrange to pick up a rental car through the roadside assistance option in the app. Make sure you stay in contact with your auto insurance carrier throughout the entire claims process to avoid any delays.

Schedule a Doctor’s Visit

While you may feel fine after an auto accident, you may have injuries that make themselves apparent after a few days. Did you know that you can sustain spinal and other serious injuries from minor auto accidents? If you experience any unusual symptoms, contact your doctor immediately.

Be Prepared

You can’t predict when you’re going to be in an accident, so the best thing you can do is be prepared. Being prepared means you’ll have to do different things to ensure you have everything you need in case you are involved in an accident.

First, you need to make sure you have your auto insurance carrier’s app downloaded on your phone. You’ll need to keep your vehicle’s registration in a specific spot in your car. Most drivers keep the registration in their glove compartment or the center console. You should keep your registration and proof of insurance in the same place. It’s also good to have your contact information and other information you may need. Having a checklist will help you stay on top of things.

Another way you can be prepared is to stay as safe as possible on the road by following all traffic signs and laws. Don’t speed and keep a safe distance from the car in front of you.

You did it! You now know the steps you need to take after a car accident. Always be alert and aware of your surroundings. Be safe and happy driving!